What’s this blog all about? Well if you’ve noticed the heading
‘The Day My Life Changed’
it should give you a tiny clue. Maybe you’ve also noticed the six digits in the title 201010. I know, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to come up with the date that changed my life.
20th October 2010.
Yes, we all have them, those dates that are branded into our memories, the day we will never forget. It may have been a happy time, could have been a sad time. Maybe the day you lost your job, got married or divorced, won the lottery, ran the cat over. The list is endless and some more life changing than others.
Well mine was one of those very, very, very big life changers and unfortunately for me it wasn’t a lottery win!
So come on, I hear you say, what was it?
Well, you already know it was the 20th October 2010 when it happened, it was that wonderful time at dawn when all is still and the heat of the day is yet to come, the calm before the storm. The sun was just rising over the rice fields of Cambodia as I sat enjoying a cup of tea on my veranda, watching the children as they passed by herding the water buffalo from the nearby village to the grazing grounds. Little did I know that later that day I’d be under arrest and three days later I’d be in prison! My whole life thrown on it’s head!
I’d been in Cambodia 4 years and the last two had been working towards the construction of a children’s village and school. I’d already established an NGO (Charity) and had set up a number of very successful projects including two orphanages, three English language schools, family support programme, restaurant and vocational training workshops. I had an office and 40 staff employed throughout the projects. Construction land had been purchased just outside the town of Siem Reap and it was here that I sat enjoying my cup of tea. What was to literally be my last taste of freedom.
At about 7 am a number of expensive looking 4 wheel drive vehicles turned up from which decanted an assortment of people. Some in police uniform some not. There was a strange air of vagueness about why they had come. Nobody wanted to take the responsibility of explaining – nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad tidings. They wandered around, took photos, sat and had tea with my director and me and then finally by the late morning they had plucked up enough courage to ask us if we would go to the police station to answer some questions. Still with no explanation why or what it was about. So off we went to the police station.
It is a long and complex story but in countries with systemic corruption there are many opportunities for individuals and organisations to make money from false allegations (see my page on Cambodia). It has become a cottage industry. I found myself accused of child abuse, child trafficking, child labour, running an unregistered NGO, you name it they said I’d done it. None of which was true.
My director and myself were held in the prison (which is another story which I won’t go into now). After 2 months he was released without charges and at 5½ months I was told I had been found guilty and sentenced, then taken for trial. Yes, that’s right I haven’t made a typing error, the verdict and the sentence came before the trial! The trial was a 2 hour formality without a lawyer.
While all this was happening all the assets of my NGO were taken and in late October 2011 I was released and returned to the UK. Then suffering a double whammy as I find the UK system automatically assumes me to be a criminal!
So that’s why 20th October 2010 was the day that changed my life.
However I’m a great believer in turning a negative into a positive, so I hope this blog will enable me to raise awareness about the evil of false allegations and corruption and in whatever way I can, make some difference.